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Corruption Chronicles

City Ordered To Pay Day Laborers’ Legal Fees

A federal appellate court has ruled that an advocacy group representing illegal immigrant day laborers can collect legal fees from the city it successfully sued over a law banning workers from seeking employment on the street.

Issued by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the ruling is slap in the face for yet another local government trying to curb illegal immigration. The case involves the southern California city of Lake Forest, an upscale community of about 75,000 residents.

Responding to residents’ complaints, Lake Forest passed an ordinance in 2007 prohibiting day laborers, mostly large groups of illegal immigrant men, from seeking work on public streets and potential employers from hiring them. A group representing the day laborers (La Associacion De Trabajadores De Lake Forest) quickly sued the city for “harassing” the illegal aliens. The ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated the illegal immigrants’ First Amendment rights, according to the group’s complaint.

To avoid costly litigation the city repealed the measure a month later and, though both parties agreed to the settlement, the illegal alien advocacy group demanded attorney’s fees. When a lower court denied the request, the group appealed and this month a three-judge panel from the notoriously liberal 9th Circuit Court granted the request.

In reversing the denial for attorney’s fees, the court said that La Associacion De Trabajadores was the “prevailing party” based on the favorable settlement and therefore should be compensated for legal costs. The group “received relief in the form of a judicially enforceable agreement requiring (the defendants) to adhere to policies respecting day laborers and their First Amendment rights, relief ATLF sought in its complaint,” according to the ruling.

Laws in other parts other country designed to ban day laborers have also been defeated in court, though awarding legal costs seems to take it a step beyond the norm. Earlier this year a federal judge in New York ruled that a Long Island town (Oyster Bay) can’t enforce its “unconstitutional” law prohibiting illegal immigrant day laborers from seeking work on public property and people from hiring them.

A similar ordinance in Mamaroneck, a working class village located about 25 miles north of New York City, was also defeated in federal court a few years ago. Earlier this year another southern California city, Costa Mesa, went to court to defend its anti-solicitation law which was challenged by a group of illegal immigrants who claim it’s unconstitutional and that it violates their civil rights. The outcome of that case has not been determined.

 


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